Seaside students continued to struggle the most with chronic absenteeism relative to their peers in Clatsop County and statewide last school year.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of the school year. Nearly one-quarter of Seaside students were considered chronically absent last school year, according to state attendance reports, a nearly 1 percent increase from the year prior and up 7.5 percent from 2014-15.
Around one-third of Seaside kindergartners and high schoolers last school year were considered chronically absent.
“I think that we certainly need an improvement in our attendance,” said Sheila Roley, the school superintendent in Seaside. “It has become close to the top of our priority list.”
The school district has a highly mobile population, with families sometimes moving out of the district and not letting the district know, Roley said. Families busy with work during the summer also take breaks during the school year to spend time together, racking up absences, she said.
The district this year started a colloquium period during which students check in with a teacher or other staff member four to five days a week. Having adult mentors is key to keeping students engaged, along with creating interesting academic opportunities, Roley said.
Seaside will soon move to a new K-12 campus in the hills east of the city center. It remains to be seen whether a more rural campus cuts into absenteeism, but the district will be taking certain measures in response to the new location, such as closing campus during lunch, Roley said.
More than one-fifth of students statewide were considered chronically absent last school year. The rate is one of the worst in the nation and has consistently grown worse over the past several years from 15.2 percent in 2013-14.
Aside from Seaside, county schools have shown more progress in regards to the absenteeism rate and trended lower than the state. Fewer than 9 percent of the 157 students in the rural K-12 Jewell School last school year were chronically absent, far below the district’s 21.5 percent rate in 2016-17 and 24.5 percent in 2015-16. Jewell’s rate was the lowest in the county, followed by 15.9 percent in Astoria and 16.8 percent in Warrenton. Knappa’s chronic absenteeism rate surpassed the state’s at 21.7 percent last year, but was down from 22.3 percent the two years prior.
Astoria’s chronic absenteeism rate last school year decreased by 4 percent overall from 2016-17. The school district recently began the Strive for Five campaign to publicize the importance of attendance. Craig Hoppes, the school superintendent in Astoria, said the district has made a lot of progress, and has seen the results borne out in better test scores, but ultimately wants to get below 10 percent chronic absenteeism.
“We’ve never communicated like this at the high school or districtwide to parents about the importance of attendance,” he said of Strive for Five.
The rate of chronic absenteeism has traditionally been highest among kindergartners and high school juniors and seniors. While more than one-fifth of kindergartners statewide were chronically absent, the rate was only 10 percent in Jewell, 12.3 percent in Astoria and 12.8 percent in Warrenton. More than 30 percent of kindergartners in Knappa were chronically absent last school year, along with one-third in Seaside.
More than 29 percent of high schoolers were chronically absent statewide, compared to 23.4 percent in Astoria and 24.3 percent in Warrenton. Seaside and Knappa were the only districts to surpass 30 percent and the statewide rate.
State schools chief Colt Gill, an appointee of Gov. Kate Brown, has faced criticism for planning to withhold completed school report cards until after the November election. The report on chronic absenteeism was due out more than a week ago, but had been tentatively pushed back to Nov. 1 without explanation before a surprise decision to release complete school performance data Friday, according to The Oregonian.
The state recently created its own attendance campaign, Every Day Matters, as part of a goal of Brown’s to have 90 percent of incoming high school freshmen graduate with a diploma or through a GED exam.
“We know that every day a student attends school means an additional opportunity for learning,” Gill said in a news release. “Our Every Day Matters campaign is one part of a larger effort throughout the state to improve attendance. Reducing chronic absenteeism requires all of us to do our part. Schools need to make sure students are welcomed and engaged. Families need to recognize the importance of attendance and every community needs to look at local barriers that can impact student attendance.”